Adventures in East Asia

The Return of the Altar

The new year festivities in Ting Kok village have almost ended and the altar needs to be returned back up to the village temple at 9am today (three days after being brought down) again, mainly by the men.

The unicorn is brought out and there is a process in performing the custom of returning the altar. I've video-documented what I could, which is shown in the eight clips below. (Note, if a message states that the 'video no longer exists', you may need to just reload the page.)

I've previously mentioned how villagers who contribute to the entertainment expenses have their names written on red scrolls displayed at the back of the performance theatre. These scrolls are first taken down whilst the unicorn gongs are played.

Then the unicorn begins its dance in front of the altar - shown below - before making its way to a patch just outside the theatre.

Outside (you can see the side of the theatre on the left), a makeshift altar is set up and the red scrolls are folded up and placed on a table in front. The unicorn dances during the preparations and when done, the villagers pray to the god.

Shortly after, the red scrolls are burnt whilst the unicorn again dances around (the fire).

The idea is that the red scrolls contain details of the villagers who paid up and this custom passes on these details to the god, so that he knows who the individual villagers are and therefore who to "protect" and give luck to.

The unicorn then returns back inside the theatre, where preparations to lift the heavy altar are made. A similar procession to when the altar was brought down then makes it's way back up to the village temple.

Whilst the procession progresses up the alleys to the temple, another long snake of firecrackers is let off.

After the firecrackers finished, I still managed to catch up with the unicorn and altar, since the heavy altar still needs careful negotiation up the tight alley turns. I always feel a little guilty when I film and photograph these guys since I think I should be helping out, but I guess my time will come.

When the altar reaches the temple, all the villagers continue with their prayers, lighting their incense and sticking these into various pots throughout the building. There are so many people doing this that the air quickly becomes very thick with smoke and you can't stay in for too long since your eyes start to stream tears.

Everyone then leaves the temple and goes back down to the community area, where there are ongoing preparations for a large feast. In the video below, I've recorded the direct journey (i.e. a quicker route than that which the unicorn and altar takes) from outside the temple down to the community area.

With regards to the altar, I always thought it was left out as part of the display in the village temple, but this time I realised that it is actually covered up, probably to protect it after its traumatic annual journey amongst the alleys.

I found an older altar in one corner of the temple, its structure clearly the worse for wear, although its paintwork didn't look too bad.


This entry posted in : Culture. Events. Hong Kong. New Territories.

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